Elodie and Lucien Rufener are CFO and CEO of INVENesis, but also partners in life. Passionate about life sciences, they have taken risks to develop the start-up into a real SME.
How has the company developed since 2018 when you were still in the premises of the University of Neuchâtel?
As you mentioned, the search for new premises kept us busy because our needs were very specific (pure water, water inlet and outlet, controlled temperature and humidity, air-conditioned rooms, etc.), without having to respect the level of cleanliness of the existing clean rooms in the canton. Finally, we had to design our own premises, starting from scratch from the former premises of the LEUTWILER locksmith’s workshop in St-Blaise. It was a huge challenge, despite the support of our architect Mr. Aradas, because we had to comply with numerous standards, while remaining available for the various trades. The BCN also played a decisive role by very quickly granting us a loan guaranteed via the BCN foundation and the other half in private guarantee. We were able to move into our new premises in September 2020, which has considerably improved our way of working and our productivity.
At the same time, we opened our new branch in Tours, France (INVENesis France) managed by our partner Alexandre Vernudachi, within the Zénoé startup incubator belonging to the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE). This allows us to have access to certain parasites, but also to benefit from the research tax credit (CIR), which is a generic support measure for research and development (R&D) activities of companies in France.
We have continued to work on diversifying our markets, notably by opening an office in Japan. We are working with a former colleague of ours who is based there. The Japanese are among the best chemists in the world and many new molecules for animal health are discovered and synthesised there. Getting started in this market was very demanding because you have to know well the country’s habits and customs.
Finally, an Innosuisse project is underway. This is a large project that we have won with the CSEM Neuchâtel and the Lausanne start-up Sun Bioscience run by two excellent scientists. Beyond the research aspect, this project gives us a lot of visibility.
What is your business model?
Our motto is “drug discovery for everyone”. Our goal is to be able to offer our services to everyone, from academia to small companies to large pharmaceutical companies. It is important to us that everyone can develop their ideas. That’s why we decided to become entrepreneurs. Our clients pay us at the data point, i.e. when we achieve tangible and communicable results.
How did you experience the period of the covid-19 health crisis?
The construction of our laboratory was delayed by the virus. Given the current situation, we are doing really well. During the whole period of the health crisis, we have not had any cancellations of orders, nor have we lost any customers. On the other hand, we have clearly had a slowdown in our activity with a clear shift in our turnover. 2021 is looking good with an excellent first quarter.
What are your objectives for 2021?
2021 will be the year of marketing and communication. It’s very encouraging and reassuring to say that in the space of two years our client base has doubled. We have created a catalogue of services which is about to be released and we want to develop our presence on LinkedIn and update the INVENesis web page.
We are in discussions with a Basel-based company active in the chemical industry to create a consortium of companies that are highly specialised and excellent in their field. In this way, the customer could have access to a package of services, which, if well combined, could also reduce costs.
We also need to secure our supply of the parasites needed for our tests. Our US tick supplier will be retiring very soon. We are evaluating different options to ensure the sustainability of this production. Without it, our activity would be in difficulty.
On the managerial level, now that we are stabilising, we must absolutely consider doubling the various existing positions. All our employees are extremely competent in their field. But if they fall ill or decide to leave us, we lose essential skills that are difficult to replace at short notice. To reduce this risk, the training of our youngest employee is intended to be versatile: in the long term, he or she should be able to temporarily take over the ongoing projects of an absent employee. We are very proud of the atmosphere in our team, it is a pleasure to come to work with this quality of human relations. As we are a small organisation, it is essential that we all pull together and in the same direction.
Latest news : Innovative testing system speeds the development of antiparasitic drugs, 24th August 2021